About Me

I look down on the garbage dump from my second-story apartment and ponder. How did I, born in Hollywood, end up in Beit Hanina, a 9-square mile section of East Jerusalem? Claimed by both Palestinians and Israelis as their capital, Jerusalem lives in relentless ambiguity.

I guess I always sought out the “in-between.” After high school, I ran as far away as I could get – Egypt. Studying in Cairo from 1983-1984 was transformational, yes, but also disruptive. How can anyone see the world one way again, after seeing it from the eyes of a Nubian doorman, an old Egyptian Jew, an Ethiopian migrant worker, a freed Palestinian political prisoner, and so many more? In all these people, I saw myself.

It was in 1984 in Haifa that I met the love of my life (who is sometimes a thorn in my side) and we lived nearly twenty years around Boston, Massachusetts. I was assistant professor of cross-cultural understanding at Bentley University, adjunct faculty at Lesley University, and facilitated antiracism, intercultural relations and organizational change with community groups, hospitals, grantmakers, government agencies and corporations. Some of this work was through a consulting company I founded, The Leagora Group, and some as a diversity curriculum designer for J. Howard & Associates. I was also the corporate cultural competence strategist for Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates. Previously, I had a number of activist jobs doing anti-war, feminist, and youth organizing. During the first Intifada (Palestinian uprising), I was coordinator of the Cambridge Ramallah/ElBireh Sister City Campaign.

During those years, I completed my doctorate from Fielding University in Santa Barbara, California focused on social change and structural inequality; a Master of Arts degree in Intercultural Relations from Lesley University, with an emphasis on conflict management and training; and a master’s degree in Human Services from Fielding University which I added to my Bachelor of Arts degree in Middle East Studies from UCLA. I have also had several fellowships, including with Synergos Institute, the Palestinian American Research Center, and Northeastern University’s Middle East Center.

We moved to Palestine in 2004 so that our three daughters could grow up as comfortable and competent in their father’s Palestinian village as they already were in American suburbia. Actually, American suburbia had changed post-9/11. A generalized insecurity wafted through our schools, neighborhoods and media. When my oldest daughter asked, “Mommy, why do you make me be Arab when you don’t have to be?” we knew the United States shouldn’t be the only place our daughters consider “home.”

My husband took at job with the United Nations and I started consulting with Palestinian nongovernmental organizations, international NGOs, and UN agencies doing participatory research, strategic planning, community development, donor communications, capacity assessments, impact evaluations, fundraising, and other projects.

My immediate, profound shock at the distortions in Palestinian civil society caused by dependence on international aid led me to found Dalia Association (www.Dalia.ps), the first Palestinian community foundation, which I directed from 2006 to 2010. Dalia Association seeks to reduce dependence on international aid by reforming the international aid system; promoting local, diaspora and private sector philanthropy; and running “community-controlled grantmaking” programs that enhance civil society’s accountability to local communities. Dalia Association is one of my greatest accomplishments.

Yes, I have lived a thousand lives. I’ve visited the saints in Escipulas, Guatemala, frozen in the Chinese winter on a boat in Guiling, and smelled the legacy of slavery in the arid air of Namibia. Now, in midlife, I am surprised to find myself still hungry. I hunger for a kind of intimacy that writing fiction offers. My characters need me. Their problems implicate me. Telling their stories is both a duty and an honor.

Contact me at nora [at] noralestermurad [dot] com!

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33 thoughts on “About Me

  1. Carl Zaisser says:

    Hi Nora,
    Hope things are well enough. It’s a measure of how difficult things are that when Kerry breezes through for a few hours and makes a public comment, despite actually NOT doing anything to make things change, that all the settlements are illegitimate, it somehow feels uplifting. Not sure how that feels where you are.

    I wonder if you can help me with something. I am having a house built on a Greek island. It’s kind of an investment instead of letting retirement money just sit in a bank account. A financial investment, but also an investment in a lifelong dream. From the east and southeast coast of this island, Karpathos, there is nothing across the Mediterranean until one comes to Egypt and Palestine (okay, Israel too).

    I wonder if you could shop for me for a traditional Palestinian woman’s dress. I have in mind the traditional black with mainly red embroidery, but am open so something else also that is aesthetically appealing. I don’t know how the post is out of Israel to Austria. I guess I could wire the money, if you found something, from my bank account to yours. Anyway, consider this a bit, and let me know if you can do some shopping for me.

    Still reading tons of books. Currently reading a book recommended in one of Norman Finkelstein’s books, on the details of the Nazi scene and how it affected the DEvolution to the ‘final solution’, Arno Mayer’s “Why Did the Heavens not Darken”.

    Hope you, Hani, and family are well.
    Carl

  2. Eman shatara says:

    I just came across your blog and just wanted to let you know you are such an inspiration. I’m moving to Ramallah in a one week and I’m feeling so anxious. We live in the states and now feel its time to take our 4 boys there to experience life, culture, family and traditions. I hope this will be a great experience for them. And I also hope that I meet people just like you.

  3. Laura O'Neill says:

    Hello Nora, what an interesting story!
    Having also once met the love of my life from Haifa, I was drawn to your story, however a tragic accident split the two of us apart and ended my potential story down that path. It is nice to see that you have located your family to Jerusalem, however the comment of your daughter about being an Arab struck an eerie chord with me. Children always seem to see the world through eyes that candidly reflect the madness of adult societies.
    Thanks for your blog.
    Laura.

  4. Seems like you actually know quite a lot pertaining to this particular issue and that exhibits as a result of this particular posting, termed “About Me | Nora Lester Murad”.
    Thanks ,Alvin

  5. Mike says:

    I worry you are fixating on one component of the problem (and proposing a solution) in a way that further compromises the victims. There may be a way to avoid adding more weight onto the backs of those carrying the heaviest burden. This requires us all to think critically about ways to empower the victims of Israeli/US economic, military, political, physical occupation of Palestinian life, rather than run the risk of almost blaming those rationally choosing an opportunity for an income and a slightly better life by taking or working for international aid.

    All mainstream participants (International NGO’s, human rights groups) working to claim some efforts in Palestine have “benevolent Zionists” among their donors. It is not an accident that the recipients of these donations are less likely to rock the boat when they know their money is coming from donors (or entire government entities) who get “concerned” about some kinds of behavior (including public education and marketing messaging).

    As one component to a larger strategy of educating the public, promoting BDS globally and supporting smaller groups who are doing the same and taking other actions to end the occupation and help Palestinians, I would turn to the folks at the highest levels of these compromised mainstream organizations and require that the sacrifice start with them. Cut out funding from those with direct links to the skewed/biased politics of the occupiers requiring you to make allowances for (or keep silent about) Israeli expansion, occupation, oppression, harassment, Apartheid and endless violations of international law.

    I would present this rewarding outcome: stop taking your funding from them and watch what happens. The world knows the truth about Israel/Palestine and they are ready to reward all groups who have the courage to stand up strongly and uncompromisingly for human rights. They will reward you.

    Saying this means expecting more from the leadership of every group claiming to do good work in Palestine. It even means educating their Western staff about what it means to be uncompromisingly for human rights, working to end to the occupation of Palestine, and to be critical of Israel.

    In the end, the goal is to empower the people you are helping, not by telling them how to help themselves in a rigged system, but by helping them win their case against the people trampling on their chances of survival.

    Also, there are plenty of very good and useful individuals within the international aid and human rights groups working to help Palestinians and influence a detachment from funding that constrains them. We shouldn’t discourage the folks doing that good work, but, again, seek ways to empower. INMHO

    • admin says:

      Hi Mike, assuming that you’re replying to my articles about boycotting aid (Oct. 2012), then I think you and I are actually quite close in position. All I’m saying is that Palestinians should consider rejecting aid that comes with detrimental conditions, and I’ve shared a draft of criteria we can use to distinguish at http://www.noralestermurad.com/2012/10/18/draft-criteria/. Would love your further comments on that page.

  6. Sam Eisenstein says:

    We were delighted to meet your family when you were in Pasadena. The time was all too short. The world needs so many more people like you.

    • admin says:

      Thank you so much, Sam. You are dear friends and have been, despite our years without communication, for 35 years! Imagine that!

  7. Alondra Miller says:

    Hi Nora,

    Wow and to think I knew you when. Your writing is wonderful, and you paint such a colorful picture. I would love to read your fiction when you get around to it. Until then I will keep reading your blog and can’t wait to see you in July!

  8. Gillian Lewis says:

    Nora,

    So glad I finally clicked on your link on FB and then subscribed to your blog. I too love the way you write and am proud to have spent time with you in the early 80s, before you headed out into that great big world to do and see SO much.

    I am very good friends with a lovely young woman who struggled with the prejudice of having a Palestinian father. She, and each of her siblings, had spent at least a year in Palestine with their father. She had many interesting stories to tell.

    I am so grateful that having raised my children as Unitarian Universalists, they were exposed to many different cultures and religions. I taught religious education a few times while my kids were growing up. I most enjoyed the year that I taught the curriculum on world religions. We visited a mosque in Corvallis, Oregon in 2002. The kids got a unique perspective from the young women of the mosque, who told what it was like to go to school with angry, distrustful Christians in the post 9/11 atmosphere.

    I look forward to reading more of your writing. I am proud to know you!

    • admin says:

      Thanks for your wonderful encouragement. My high school years feel like another world to me, but here you are, commenting on a blog I write about my daily life today. Things do come full circle somehow. I am pleased to be back in touch and appreciate your sharing your own experiences. I hope you’ll share more.

  9. Hi Nora

    I really like reading your writings.

    I wish that I had got to know you better when we were working together. Also I should have come to see you last month when I was in Jerusalem/Ramallah.

    There will be a next time!!

  10. Anwaar Jabr says:

    Hi Nora,

    I really enjoyed reading this blog, I love your thoughts and I love how diverse they are. It’s true that I haven’t met met you in person, but I am very proud that I know someone like you. I would love to read more and more of your work :)

    Anwaar

  11. Amira says:

    Hi Nora,
    This is a lovely blog! I came across it after reading your post on Arabic Lit (in English). I had read about the Dalia Association and really admired it.. now coming to think of it, I might even have met you in Cairo at a conference some time ago. If my memory is not as rusty as I believe it is, you might even have given me a brochure and talked to me about the association.
    I look forward to reading more and more posts from you.

    • admin says:

      Thanks so much, Amira. I’m so glad to have you as a subscriber! Please do help me spread the word, and I hope you’ll be active in sharing your experiences.

  12. Basma AbuSway says:

    Hi Nora

    I love your writing, so interesting and saying too much in an amazing way.

    thanks for sharing it with me.

  13. Raquel "Rocky" Sanchez says:

    Hi Nora,
    It’s so great to read about your life and perspective on your blog. In some ways, you are in the same place you were when I saw you last – looking on the bright side and finding ways to help. I’d love to meet your girls someday. I’m living in Pasadena and have a 5-year old daughter. Maybe we’ll make a trip to Palestine someday. Let me know when you are in the U.S. My work takes me all over the country, so maybe coincidence will bring us together somewhere soon.

    • admin says:

      Rocky! So nice to connect with you after so long. I’m glad you find the blog interesting. Please share your experiences and opinions, too.

  14. Waad says:

    This is so great, Nora. Thanks for sharing with me and keep writing!

  15. H.Rogers says:

    Hello,
    So interesting! I’m really enjoying your blog. Your description of Palestine is priceless. I’ll be checking back often to ‘experience’ your experience;)

    • admin says:

      Thanks and please share your experience, too. With lots of different perspectives, we begin to get closer to the many truths. Don’t ya think?

  16. Amanda says:

    Hi, I just stumbled across your blog on an average Saturday afternoon, and usually I don’t post on things such as this, but I find your blog fascinating. As well as your perspective. See, I am pursuing a relationship with a first generation American-Palestinian who’s father was born in Ramallah. I at first was hesitant to have anything to do with the Arab culture because of the stereotypes the media push as I am a red headed strong willed woman, but I absolutely love the culture. They are some of the kindest people I know and definitely the most hospitable. The american culture is quite bland, rude, and stuck up in comparison. But you definitely have a wealth of information regarding that part of the world. Do you have any advice and tips to make blending cultures a bit easier, at least for my family, who have slowly been warming to the idea of dating a Paletstian?

    • admin says:

      I wish you lots of luck in your relationship, Amanda. I think all relationships take luck as well as hard work. I’m glad you’re loving the culture, and through you (and your love), others will let their guard down and open up. It is so sad that racism and stereotypes and fear get in the way of seeing one another as human beings. As for tips, I can’t think of anything that can be shared in a comment, but I’ll contact you by email and we can share experiences. I can say that in my 30-year relationship, cultural differences have brought both challenges and rewards, but overall, I think gender differences have been an even bigger source of conflict. I wonder if that’s true for others “out there” too?

  17. Vicki Tamoush says:

    Habibti Nora, I don’t have adequate words to tell you how much I admire you for the way you are living your life. May all you do be blessed.
    (P.S. There’s something about that picture of you at the wall that reminds me so much of your mom and her own courage, decades of it, speaking truth to power.)

    • admin says:

      Such nice words about me and my mom, who is, truly, a model. And YOU are a model for me and so many. I hope you’ll be willing to write about your experiences with Christian-Muslim-Jewish interfaith dialogue here on my blog. Everyone needs to know about the work you do.

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